With the U.K. abuzz with open water swimming in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympics, the open water swimming phenonema calls to mind the professional English Channel races that were held in the 1950’s.

The first race was held in 1950 and was limited to 20 participants from around the world, sponsored by the London Daily Mail. Hassan Abdel Rheim, a 41-year-old Egyptian won the first race in a then-record of 10 hours and 50 minutes over an international field. The results were as follows:

1. Hassan Abdel Rheim (Egypt) – 10:50
2. Roger Le Morvan (France) 11:02
3. Mareeh Hassan Hamad (Egypt) 12:10
4. Sam Rockett (Great Britain) 14:17
5. Willian Barnie (Scotland) 14:50
6. Eileen Fenton (Great Britain) 15:31 – First woman
7. Jason Zirganos (Greece) 16:19
8. Antonio Albertondo (Argentina) 15:25
9. Jenny Kammersgaard (Denmark) 16:30

DNF: Emile Soron (France), Eduard Mussche (Belgium), David Frank (USA), Willy van Rijsel (Holland), G.B. Brewster (Great Britain), Panagiotis Kamberous (Greece), Elna Andersen (Denmark), Margareth Ann Feather, Fahmmy Attallah (Egypt).

In 1951, another Egyptian, 34-year-old Mareeh Hassan Hamad, won the race in 12 hours 12 minutes by just one minute over Frenchman Roger Le Morvan in another close race. Roger had also placed second in the 1950 Daily Mail race. In addition to France, England and Egypt, swimmers also came from Canada, Argentina, Sweden, Peru, Greece, the Netherlands and Denmark. The results were as follows:

1. Mareeh Hassan Hamad (Egypt) 12:12
2. Roger Le Morvan (France) 12:13
3. Hassan Abdel Rheim (Egypt) – 12:25
4. Saied El Arabi (Egypt) 12:42
5. Brenda Fisher (England) 12:42 – First woman
6. Godfrey Chapman (England) 12:56,br/> 7. Winnie Roach (Canada) 13:25
8. Enriqueta Duarte (Argentina) 13:26
9. Lars Beril Warle (Sweden) 13:28
10. Raphael Morand (France) 13:45
11. Jenny James (Wales) 13:55
12. Jason Zirganos (Greece) 14:01
13. Jan Van Hemsbergen (Netherlands) 14:03 (br/> 14. Sally Bauer (Sweden) 14:04
15. Antonio Abertondo (Argentina) 14:14
16. William E. (Ned) Barnie (Scotland) 15:01
17. Jenny Kammersgaard (Denmark) 15:38
18. Daniel Carpio (Peru) 23:05

Between 1953 and 1959, the pro races across the Channel were sponsored by Billy Butlin of Butlin’s Holiday Camps.

The 1953 race was plagued by inclement weather and poor conditions and had no finishers. The 1954 race saw Portugal’s Baptista Periera win in 12 hours 25 minutes over Egypt’s Hamad in 12 hours 49 minutes. The official results were as follows:

1. Baptista Periera (Portugal) 12:25
2. Mareeh Hassan Hamed (Egypt) 12:49
3. Brenda Fisher (England) 14:36 – First woman
4. Jason Zirganos (Greece) 16:23
5. Margaret Ann Dixon [Feather] (England) 16:22
6. Antonio Abertondo (Argentina) 16:54
7. Mohamed El Soussi (Syria) 17:55

The 1955 race was won by Egypt’s formidable Abdel-Latif Abo-Heif (shown above) in 11 hours 44 minutes over America’s Tom Park in 12 hours 2 minutes. The official results were as follows:

1. Abdul Latif Abou Heif (Egypt) 11:44
2. Thomas Park (USA) 12:02
3. Syder Guiscardo (Argentina) 14:33
4. Damien Beltran (Mexico) 15:08
In 1956, Park came back and shared the winning prize with Ireland’s Jack McClelland for swimming the furthest, but the swim was called off after 11 hours due to poor weather and water conditions.

Greta Anderson, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in pool swimming, battled the world’s best men in many pro marathon swims around the world, and became the only person to win two English Channel races. She won in 1957 and 1958. During the 1957 race, the conditions were terrible and only two swimmers finished with Greta finishing in 13 hours 53 minutes over England’s Ken Wray in 16 hours.

In 1958, the men and women were formally separated into two different races…but that did not stop Greta from winning overall in 11 hours 1 minute over Pakistan’s Brojan Das in 14 hours 52 minutes, England’s Ronald Tarr (15:12), France’s Raphael Morand (16:22) and Mexico’s Ramon Ocana (16:57).

The 1959 race was won by Argentina’s Alfredo Camerero in 11 hours 43 minutes over Herman Willemse (12:49) and other top swimmers including Greta (15:25) who could not complete a three-peat.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source